I often wondered to what they referred when they spoke about the beautiful game but I was always fascinated by that title, in fact, I still am, still think it would make a great novel, though probably not by me.
But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve figured out what the beautiful game really is. And I, like billions (and I’m not kidding) of people around the world, am addicted.
It’s probably the only sport that’s played right around the world, that’s played in rich countries and poor countries, that’s played on city streets and desert sands. It’s played for money and it’s played for the pure joy of it. It’s played – now more than ever – by woman as well as by men. It’s played by children as young as two or three and by men as old as eighty or more.
It’s known as football in England, as futbal or futbol in other European countries – but I call it soccer.
What do I love about it? I could go on and on and on about it – but I won’t. What I will say is for me it’s mostly about the pure athleticism of it. These athletes aren’t like football players or basketball players or hockey players who play for short periods of time – they’re on that pitch for 90 minutes. And they just don’t stop. Often in games, they measure how far a player has run at full speed in those 90 minutes – and it’s somewhere around 10 kilometers. And they’re not jogging, they’re sprinting.
Sunday afternoon I was at the final of the CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying tournament – though both teams were already heading to the Olympics. The game was between the USA and Canada and as it was held in Vancouver, the Canadian team was the favorite – and when I say favorite, I mean big-time, top of the line, we love you to death kind of favorite.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the game (please don’t tell that to any of the millions of rabid fans of the beautiful game), it’s all about the beauty of it. The crispness of the passes, the bodies racing across the brilliant green pitch. That great shot arising from a perfect run down the field. The way a midfielder and a striker just know where the ball should be and where it’s going to be. The way a goalkeeper leaps right across the goal and gets just their fingertips on the ball. The way they play in the rain or the snow, the way the fans sing throughout the game, the way it’s impossible not to get caught up in it.
Today, the USA beat Canada 4-0. They deserved to win. Yes, we were all more than a little disappointed, but we’re consoling ourselves with the fact that we’ll get to try it again in London this summer. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll win the beautiful game.